March 15, 2008 | Favorites
How Sweet It Is:
A Guide to Upper West Side Pastry Shops
by Sylvie Bigar
Sugary thrills for some, too much icing for others at Magnolia Bakery. Photo: Sylvie Bigar
A full-blown recession, visions of a woman president blurring and a pork belly overdose? When life gets us down, we eat dessert first. At least our very own Upper West Side sweet tooth will not be denied. In just the last three months, Magnolia Bakery, Grandaisy Bakery and Jacques Torres all opened within a few blocks of each other, to the cheers of the insatiable stroller crowd and sweet-craving gourmands. I surveyed the new crop and revisited old friends. Here’s our 2008 Upper West Side pastry map.
When Magnolia Bakery moved into the old Lenge space, the uptown branch of the cupcake fan club could scarcely contain its joy. Behind lacy curtains, with an all-American décor in view of Columbus Avenue’s restless herd, white-clad oompa loompas make some of the city’s prettiest cupcakes. Kids dig their fingers in the frosting as if it were paint, but to my grownup taste buds, the thickness of the icing makes for an unbalanced mix. Seeing red? The sanguine velvet cake delivers more color than flavor, my brood and I love the thickly sexy banana pudding. Brown sugar cookies remind me of Grandma’s and the caramel pecan cheese cake is clearly a winner. Unfortunately the marketing concept – the vintage Americana look and Stepfordesquely cheerful clerks – has more legs than the cakes.
200 Columbus Ave. at 69th Street. 212 724-8101
Owner Madge Rosenberg doesn’t have to pretend her Lilliputian shop has always been there. Last December she celebrated its 25th anniversary. A writer for Life magazine, she started baking from home when George Lang revived Café des Artistes. A few years into her venture, beloved husband Barry left corporate America to don an apron. He no longer welcomes smiling neighbors from behind the counter, but Madge forges on, and Soutine still makes some of the most attractive and tastiest wedding cakes in town. The pain au chocolat is plump and moist; sweet raspberries, the size of golf balls, adorn delicious tarts, and the flourless chocolate cake is my daughter Sophie’s favorite. In response to the rash of new allergies our century has documented, Soutine offers a roster of risk-free cakes and cookies: gluten free, dairy free, nut free. And more.
104 W. 70th Street between Columbus and Broadway. 212 496-1450
Billowing challah for the weekend at Silver Moon Bakery. Photo: Sylvie Bigar
Silver Moon Bakery
From harpsichord to baguette! Juilliard School graduate Judith Norell opened her vegetarian bakery lab at an age when some of us dissolve or run wild in midlife meltdown. Several years later, she’s thriving. With six bread bakers and five pastry chefs, the shop is the largest bakery operation in the hood. The problem? Her breads are so good, it’s difficult to get through the elbows of territorial shoppers ahead of you in line. Holiday treats rule, from buttery galette des rois to fabulous Thanksgiving pies and Easter cakes. But my absolute favorite is the sweet ballooning challah – the best in New York City. The cider house bread with dried apples and a hazelnut apricot Parisien are finger-licking creations, and the lavender shortbread makes for a sophisticated fragrant cookie. In the summer, outdoor tables bring a whiff of Paris to her Broadway corner.
2740 Broadway at 105th Street. 212 866-4717
An outpost of the Soho store named for owner Monica Von Thun Calderon’s beloved Grandma Daisy, this sliver of a shop is worth finding, well hidden behind a newsstand. Breads, pizza, sandwiches and even cakes owe their Italian slant to her life-changing year in Florence. Using cheese as a condiment, not a main ingredient, the Roman style cauliflower pizza with gruyère and breadcrumbs is addictive, as is the mushroom, onion and thyme rectangular “slice.” Panini fillings change every day but always feature seasonal products. Rustic fruit tarts, crostate and Nutella cookies are the perfect finale for your dinner party. A wonderful artisanal addition to the 72nd Street lineup.
176 W. 72nd Street at Broadway. 212 334-9435
For the last 13 years, Nacer Gacem has delighted patrons in his little storefront at the Ansonia with light Madeleines and lemon tarts. What started as a simple pastry shop grew as customers demanded more. Seated in the tiny café, I am reminded what freshly made quiche should tastes like - smooth and subtle like these. The baguette sandwiches attest to Nacer’s French upbringing. Grab one of my favorites, the saucisson cornichon mix or a real Pan Bagnat, just like in Nice. Salads and healthy soups round off a distinctly European experience. And maybe, just maybe, the scaffolding around the building will come down sometime soon. Nacer confides he is planning to open a “real” wine bar nearby.
2109 Broadway at 74th Street. 212 721-0076
Apricot tart at Georgia’s balances fruit, nuts and crunchy dough. Photo: Sylvie Bigar
Georgia’s Bake Shop
More and more pastry shops are morphing into cafés and restaurants. This bright number has recently expanded into the space next door, allowing for a roomy dining area. Executive pastry chef Aliou Hane, a Fauchon alum, churns out French style raspberry mousse, chocolate éclair and fresh Viennoiserie. The Greek salad is particularly authentic. And why not? Georgia Stamoulis, a partner at the Silver Moon Bakery, is the owner here. Naturally the bread comes from Silver Moon, a real plus.
2418 Broadway between 88th and 89th Streets. 212 362-2000
Not quite viagra, Jacques Torres chocolate aims at seduction. Photo: Steven Richter
Master chocolatier Jacques Torres jokes that New Yorkers travel more often to Europe than downtown Manhattan, so he’s brought his goodies to our Western heights. From his factory in Dumbo, he first sprouted the Hudson Street lab, and this winter, the elegant seemingly cellophane-wrapped-lollipop of a boutique, a few doors down from the local porn shop! Do we sense some neighborly inspiration here? Crystal chandeliers dangle over a chocolate bar and erotically-named bonbons, such as the tri-dark chocolate ménage à trois, or the Key Lime love bug. Mommies sip hot and very hot (chile) chocolate, sometimes two or three of them sharing large, soft double chocolate cookies oozing odd chunks of the house’s superior dark molten treat. Sweethounds know that pastries are served here only on Saturday -- lemon-poppy and chocolate-banana cakes, and an almondy pithiviers. Chocolate rabbits multiply like their furry kin, and soon, Torres will offer real nougat and fudge.
285 Amsterdam Ave. between 73rd & 74th Streets. 212 787-3256
Step down to the unassuming bread counter and inhale the strong yeasty smell. Since 1995, bakers Connie McDonald and Pamela Weekes still cook up the same loaves and massive chocolate chip cookies that made their reputation. The cookies are irresistibly dense and very chocolaty, though not as intense as the sourdough roll stuffed with Valrhona.
167 W. 74th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. 212 874-6080
Sylvie Bigar is passionately caught up in the pleasures and perils of foodism as a writer, mother and dedicated gourmand. As our Insatiable Reporter, she has bemoaned and celebrated That Rat, collected and digested Miami restaurant tips and watched pastry prince Johnny Iuzzini charm a corps of culinary juniors.